Personal Electronic Records

"Consider a future device for individual use, which is a sort of mechanized private file and library. It needs a name, and, to coin one at random, "memex" will do. A memex is a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility. It is an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory." Vannevar Bush,  "As We May Think," Atlantic Monthly, July 1945

  I, Digital: Personal Collections in the Digital Era, Society of American Archivists (SAA), Chicago, August 2011, pp. 379, Christopher A. (Cal) Lee, Associate Professor at the School of Information and Library Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Ed. This tightly-knit set of chapter offerings by an outstanding line-up of 10 authors: Adrian Cunningham, Cathy Marshall, Sue McKemmish, Kristina Spurgin, Tom Hyry and Rachel Onuf, Leslie Johnston, Susan Thomas, Christopher A. (Cal) Lee and Robert Capra. To view the Table of Contents, Editor's Introduction, Author Bios, and Index, go to the Guest Authors section under Lee        

Lee sets the stage: 

"Many archivists and archival institutions have a collecting mission that includes personal papers, manuscripts, and other noninstitutional materials. Despite a massive increase in the volume and complexity of personal digital collections, the literature... has long been limited to a few scattered journal articles and research project websites. I Digital aims to fill this gap...See the full Introduction, Table of Contents, Biographies of Authors and Index HERE. 

On Personal Electronic Recordkeeping. Barry, R, E, "Barry Family Journal", a personal and ongoing exercise in personal electronic records. Although I have managed a relatively large institutional records and archives function and operation and, for many years thereafter had a management consulting practice in the field of information and records management with focus in the field of electronic records management, I am neither a professional archivist nor a historian. This has been my first experience working at the "vineyard" level with family records and objects. Writers of history write about the things that have been recorded in one medium or another that they can discover, or from oral testimony given to them from either living participants in the events or from those who can faithfully report on such rembrances passed down to them from witnesses. It seems obvious, but it is a lesson that really rings loudly and clearly when one attempts something like this with one's own family collections and shared family stories. Archives and records management professionals and many users of such records, know the importance of records, personal and otherwise, and of the practice of recordkeeping and collection-keeping more generally. They are especially aware of the archival practices of description and appraisal in which decisions are made as to what will be preserved indefinitely in a continuingly accessible manner, and what will not. For me, it has also been an excellent lesson in hands-on dealing with multi-media analog and electronic records and a sometimes frustrating but most enjoyable experience.

This very drafty journal is placed in a larger context of my ancestry, though still very sketchily so. Most of what I have written to date was possible largely because of a combination of: a proud father, Charles Vincent Barry, who took it upon himself to see that family members' accomplishments were dutifully reported to, and published in, our home-town newspapers; an extensive family scrap book kept by my mother, Mary Margaret Witherell Barry; a prodigious correspondent with her children, oral remembrances of family members; and the excellent research facilities and resourced found at the National Archives and Records Administration, especially its outstanding naval archivist staff.*. It thus far focuses mainly on the World War II period as witnessed by my oldest, now deceased, brother, Charles B. Barry (Ensign through Commander), USN. It cover his experiences  when as a 20-year old naval Ensign and gunnery officer on weekend liberty at the Moana Hotel on Waikiki beach, Oahu, then Territory of Hawaii, when the  December 7, 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor took place and the days before and thereafter. It  includes as an appendix a digital copy of an extraordinary and revealing, hand-written letter to home that he wrote one month to the day before the historic attack. The letter demonstrates that a young Ensign seems to have had a greater awareness of the "coming storm" than some far more senior and informed superiors in the chain of command in headquarters command centers at Pearl Harbor. The original of this letter has been gifted to The National World War II Museum, 945 Magazine Street New Orleans, LA 70130, where it is now accessible to all researchers and the public more generally. 

For a brief article on the author's experience in searching out and selecting an appropriate institution and arranging for a deed of gift of my brother's original November 7, 1941 letter, see SAA Business Archives Newsletter article, "Giving it away…about giving it away," by Rick Barry.

*I owe special thanks to NARA military and naval archivists, including "Sandy" Gibson Smith (ret.), Pat Osbourne, Debbie Edge and Tim Nenninger in NARA's College Park facilities and Scot Lovins in its military records facility in NARA's St. Louis facility. RB 

Special Interest Section on Personal Archive (SISPA)

Interested in personal archives? (This is not limited to personal electronic recordkeeping, but addresses all forms of personal recordkeeping/collections.)  See Catherine Hobbs' (Chair of the ACA Special Interest Section on Personal Archive (SISPA)) below description of the SISPA discussion list. Subscribe and read listserve postings here. SISPA has conducted listserve discussions on personal recordkeeping with authors interested in various areas of personal collections, e.g.:.

For further information contact:  Also, visit the related personal archives wiki

  Marshall, C.C., "Rethinking Personal Digital Archiving, Part 1: Four Challenges from the Field," DLib  Magazine, 14, 3/4 (March/April 2008) and Part 2.


  J. Rothenberg, "Ensuring the Longevity of Digital Documents." Scientific American (Jan 95), 42-47. 

Cunningham, Adrian , “Waiting for the Ghost Train: Strategies for Managing Electronic Personal Records Before It Is Too Late.” This is a pre-publication version of a paper that was delivered by Adrian Cunningham at the Aug 23-29, 1999 Society of American Archivists Annual Meeting in Pittsburgh, PA.  It was subsequently published, with minor editorial revisions, in Archival Issues: Journal of the Midwest Archives Conference, vol. 24, no. 1, 1999, pp. 55-64.  It is published here with the kind permission of the author and the Midwest Archives Conference.

Ellison Todd , CA, Center of Southwest Studies, "Tips for determining when a U.S. postcard was published", compiled by Compiled by Thanks to Peter Kurilecz for the heads-up on this article. Reagan Grimsley, Columbus State University, Columbus, GA also suggests, "try Valerie Monahan's An American Postcard Collector's Guide, George and Dorothy Miller, Picture Postcards in the US, Lou McCulloch's Card Photographs A Guide to Their History and Value,or Daniel Friedman's The Birth and Development of American Postcards. For a more recent work on the postcard as a cultural landscape, see Allison Esinberg's Downtown America, as she has an entire chapter of the postcard." For an outstanding digital collection of postcards, see A Postcard Collection of Mount Holyoke College and So. Hadley, MA, my home town. This wonderful collection was compiled and published by Donna Albino, a GLIS grad student at Simmons College. Although she says she's not an "official archivist", she certainly did a great job at describing and arranging this finding aid and collection.


Gilmoor, Dan, columnist, San Mateo Mercury, "Pyra in big boost for blogging," Feb 16, 2003. This article by the highly acclaimed technology observer and columnist, Dan Gillmor, outlines the impact of Google's purchase of Pyra Labs, one of the earliest creators of web log technology for writing weblogs (blogs), "the increasingly popular personal and opinion journals," writes Gillmor, "Weblogs are frequently updated, with items appearing in reverse chronological order...[T]opics range from technology to politics to just about anything you can name. Many weblogs invite feedback through discussion postings, and weblogs often point to other weblogs in an ecosystem of news, opinion and ideas...Weblogs are also becoming a valuable communication tool; for groups of people, and have begun to infiltrate the corporate, university and government spheres." [Emphasis supplied.] CIOs, Content managers, archivists and records managers will want to keep close watch on blogging technology. While blogs are chiefly being used today for personal journals/records, and thus should be of special interest to manuscript archivists, some corporations are already using blogs for serious business purposes, including public relations, crisis management and other critical business communications. As these applications are considered for use in the public and private sector organizations, and in academia, they will have to carefully factored into the recordkeeping component of the enterprise information architecture. RB 

McKemmish, Sue, Associate Professor, Monash University, Australia, et al: A trilogy on personal recordkeeping:

 “Evidence of Me,”  

  “On the Back of a Tiger: Deconstructive Possibilities in ‘Evidence of Me’” a riposte by Verne Harris

 “In Search of the Lost Tiger, by Way of Sainte-Beuve: Re-constructing the Possibilities in ‘Evidence of Me…’” a rejoinder by Frank Upward, Senior Lecturer, School of Information Management and Systems, Monash University, Victoria, Australia and Sue McKemmish, Associate Professor, Monash University, Victoria, Australia.

Microsoft MyLifeBits Project

"Microsoft Bay Area Research Center Media Presence   Group MyLifeBits Project

"MyLifeBits is a lifetime store of everything. It is the fulfillment of Vannevar Bush's 1945 Memex vision including full-text search, text & audio annotations, and hyperlinks. There are two parts to MyLifeBits: an experiment in lifetime storage, and a (proprietary) software research effort.

"The experiment: Gordon Bell has captured a lifetime's worth of articles, books, cards, CDs, letters, memos, papers, photos, pictures, presentations, home movies, videotaped lectures, and voice recordings and stored them digitally. He is now paperless, and is beginning to capture phone calls, IM transcripts, television, and radio."  

For the complete article on this product research go to: 

Updated info on MyLifeBits Project:  

National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), College Park, MD, guidance on personal files for federal officials in: 

 "Documenting Your Public":

"What are Personal Files?"  

"Checklist on Personal Files for Agency Officials",  National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), College Park, MD, guidance on genealogical research:

Links for how to do genealogical research, genealogy resources around the world, and databases of family trees. 

State Records, NSW, Australia 

Vital Signs, the great popular archives and heritage magazine irregularly but wonderfully produced State Records, NSW, Australia, from time to time includes excellent stories related to personal records and archives, but is by no means limited to that subject. Below are examples of editions that have featured various aspects of personal records.

Vital Signs Magazine, September 2006 (Issue #9) published as a Special Edition   

02 - Director's Letter (48kb), "Imperfect evidence", by David Roberts, Director, State Records,  

"Archivists often promote the value of archives as evidence. Archives provide the documentary evidence that historians use to understand what happened and why. They also function as evidence in inquiries and legal proceedings to help establish  facts. While we are used to reading in the media of contemporary records being used in this way, records that are decades old and held in archival collections can also function as critical evidence which can affect people’s lives...."

04 - Official Records/Personal Lives (394kb) 

    Vital Signs Magazine, (Issue #4) published a Special Edition  on the materiality of archives, consisting of numerous short-short articles on different kinds of (mostly personal) archives in various forms, including gardens, a digitized 1865 Trigonometrical Survey, mobile phone messages, Aboriginal records found in unexpected places in government archives, etc. The articles were linked to a State Archives special 2003 exhibition, "The House of Exquisite Memory" where "Natural born archivists across the country are engaging in their own recordkeeping, collecting, cataloguing, conserving and interpreting practice." In the issue's Director's Letter, David Roberts says: 

"In the information age, it can be easy to overlook the impact of the material forms that archives can take....State Records, have breathed new life into their exhibition programs in recent years, at the same time as they have embraced digitisation and online technologies to make their collections more widely accessible and keep them protected from excessive use....The information age creates wonderful opportunities for making archives more easily accessible through digitisation and other technologies. It is important, though, that we do not let this cut us off from the magic in the materiality of archives." 

Other snips from the issue:

"I shared a room with my brother when we were kids...whatever I kept had to fit in a shoebox inside a bedhead. I had to hide things to keep them or else they would be thrown out." John Cockington

"[T]o access these pre-verbal memories requires the reinstatement of modalities other than language. My current painting practice involves remembering a fleeting view triggered by one of the slides from my childhood home. I do not attempt to recreate the image pictured in the slide...Rather, the slide triggers a memory space of that childhood home...that is beyond words." Fiona Kemp

"Nearly every plant in my garden comes from member of my family or one of the people who have been my family for the time we have shared together." Sally Gray

"For the last four years I have been making my own photographic record of the messages on the roads and footpaths of the inner suburbs where I live and work." Megan Hicks

"As a means of sending text messages, the basic mobile phone has opened up a channel for highly informal communication...lying somewhere between a thought, telephone call and email...What is left of such communications once they fade away or are erased? Is the absence of an archive to the detriment of our personal or collective histories? Does it matter that we keep no records of such messages or even of the people with whom we are in touch? Sadie Plant 

To view the Table of Contents and access articles in this special issue, click on: Vital Signs Issue # 4. Don't miss the opportunity to browse other issues of the innovative Vital Signs magazine while you are there.






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